Various life complications have kept me from posting as much content as I’d like here lately, but there have been some posts out in the rest of the world that have gotten my mind going. First off, Kate Dacey talks about fabulous Boston comic shop Comicopia in her blog this week. Despite living only a couple of hours away, I have only visited Comicopia once, though it honestly blew my mind with its huge manga selection. What’s most heartbreaking about this, is that my single visit was quite early on in my association with manga, so I am sure I failed to appreciate the store fully, even then. Hopefully my life will calm down enough soon to let me take more trips into Boston!
Secondly, fantasy author Sarah Rees Brennan made a post in her livejournal recently regarding readers’ views of women in fiction that really struck a chord with me. A quote from her post:
Let us think of the Question of Harry Potter. I do not mean to bag on the character of Harry Potter: I am very fond of him.
But I think people would be less fond of him if he was Harriet Potter. If he was a girl, and she’d had a sad childhood but risen above it, and she’d found fast friends, and been naturally talented at her school’s only important sport, and saved the day at least seven times. If she’d had most of the boys in the series fancy her, and mention made of boys following her around admiring her. If the only talent she didn’t have was dismissed by her guy friend who did have it. If she was often told by people of her numerous awesome qualities, and was in fact Chosen by Fate to be awesome.
Well, then she’d be just like Harry Potter, but a girl. But I don’t think people would like her as much.
Having read numerous posts on the evils of Ginny Weasley (Chosen by The Author to be both awesome and loved by the awesome hero), I would be honestly shocked if anyone could present a believable argument against Sarah’s point here. I would also be surprised if anyone could believably argue against the fact that the great bulk of those who dislike female characters in fiction are women themselves! Sure, there are women (I like to think I’m one of them) who love awesome female characters in fiction. Maybe there are even a lot of us. But I am constantly disturbed by the evidence suggesting just how many of us actually despise female characters, both the fabulous, kick-ass ones and the ones who are deeply flawed, which is not, by the way, mutually exclusive (see both of the main characters in NANA, for instance). Misogyny among women is probably my single greatest ISSUE with certain subsets of fandom. It makes me cry. And you can go on and on about how poorly women are written in fiction but there are plenty of fantastic female characters receiving hate from female readers at any given moment, so that argument really doesn’t fly with me.
Anything I could say on this subject, however, is better said by Sarah. Witness her conclusion:
My point is, people will enjoy books and movies and shows more if ladies are in them being awesome. (I know I will.) And people will enjoy them more if they maybe take a step back, examine their prejudices, and relax into accepting that they’re awesome. Even if some girl characters are missteps, even if some of them you just will never personally like because tastes are subjective, it’s worth doing to have them, and it’s worth trying to love them.
Amen. Read her full post here. Please. Especially the section in which she talks about readers’ reactions to the characters in her own books.
There were more links in the works, but I’m out of time! Later, friends!
Katherine Dacey saysSeptember 2, 2009 at 11:21 am
Thanks for the shout-out, Melinda, and the link to Sarah Rees Brennan’s post. The few passages you pulled from her blog entry really resonated with me, so I’m going to go read the rest right now.
Melinda Beasi saysSeptember 3, 2009 at 11:04 am
Thanks for coming by, Kate, and I hope you enjoyed Sarah’s post!
Sara K. saysSeptember 2, 2009 at 11:33 am
“I would be honestly shocked if anyone could present a believable argument against Sarah’s point here.”
You have challenged the devil’s advocate in me.
I’ll get back to you (and Sarah R. B.) on this.
Melinda Beasi saysSeptember 3, 2009 at 11:05 am
Good luck. And I don’t say that sarcastically. I would love to see this proven wrong, though it will be hard to overcome the mountain of evidence fandom has provided me over the years. :)
William Flanagan saysSeptember 2, 2009 at 7:20 pm
I think Nausicaa presents an argument against Sarah’s point. (Not THE argument because Nausicaa is a very different character type than HP.) She is the Girl of Destiny; she’s widely admired; she saves quite a few parts of her world; and she has some pretty kick-butt battle scenes. And she was the most beloved character in Japan for about 20 years after her debut. She certainly was idolized by Japanese male otaku for years. I don’t know how well she did in popularity with female otaku… I also don’t know how well she went over (would have gone over) in the English-speaking world, which has somewhat differing views than the Japanese. Still, there are similarities and she was as wildly popular in the culture that generated her as Harry is in the culture that generated him.
Being on the other side of the gender divide, and being one who loves awesome female characters, I can’t say much about the gender discrimination that woman readers practice against themselves (or fictionalized versions of themselves). If true, I think it’s a shame.
Nice, thought provoking post, Melinda!
Melinda Beasi saysSeptember 3, 2009 at 11:09 am
As I was writing this, I wondered about differences between Japanese fandom and western fandom, actually. When I look at manga, I see a lot of fantastic female characters who it seems to me are *written* with the expectation that they will be loved by readers. Those same characters are bashed heavily in many English-speaking (female-dominated) forums, but I’ve wondered if that was different in Japan. I’m glad to hear that might be the case!
Sara K. saysSeptember 4, 2009 at 1:48 pm
I read Harry Potter book for the first time when I was 10 years old. And to this very day, when I think of Harry Potter, I still in some ways see it through the perspective of my 10-year-old self.
Back then, I adored female characters. They would be my favorite characters by default. And – you guessed it – Harry and Hermione were my co-favorite characters in Harry Potter (do I have a favorite Harry Potter character now? I don’t know). The more I felt that a character was like me, the more I liked him/her, and female characters had a clear advantage (nowadays, I see about as much as myself in male as female characters, since I don’t tie my own identity to my gender as strongly as I did then).
My peers at the time felt much the way I did – the other girls really liked girl-characters too. Sure, we also liked books about boys, such as Harry Potter. Now … I’m trying to remember how the boys felt about boy-vs.-girl characters. My recollections – and my recollections on this point are not entirely reliable – is that they were the mirror of girls – they preferred boy-characters, but were happy to read entertaining stories about girls too. Our culture teaches us that boys don’t want to read about girls, so I was surprised (at the time) when boys admitted really liking stories which I knew had female stars, and sometimes they did make such admissions. Perhaps our culture did influence them to indulge less in female characters than we did in male characters – and of course female characters were much less abundant – but in the privacy of their own reading they could enjoy what they wanted away from society’s judgment.
Some of these boys, when they were in high school, took up knitting as a hobby.
Though Harry Potter is famous for having fans of all ages, the 12-and-under readership is important, and the pioneers of Harry Potter fandom (I was reading it before most of the adults I knew had even heard of it). The girls I knew would not have looked down on Harriet Potter at all, and we could have probably brought a lot of the boys with us. And we would have pestered the grown-ups into reading it. And a lot of the grown-ups would have liked Harriet. The rest would have been history.
Sara K. saysSeptember 4, 2009 at 5:14 pm
Actually, I want to qualify the statement ‘female characters were much less abundant’. I remember wishing there were more female characters around, and when it came to the movies I watched female characters were truly less abundant. But when it came to books, or even television, I had a lot more to pick from, and I was strongly biased towards stories with more girls in them. I think this has been reflected in children’s literature for a long time, as for every Tom Sawyer I can think of, there’s an Anne of Green Gables.
Melinda Beasi saysSeptember 4, 2009 at 9:48 pm
Thank you, Sarah, for your thoughtful response! Reading it, I think I probably should make an important distinction… I think you’re right that young girls love fiction with great female characters. Yet when I see adult women talking about female characters (including many of those in YA fiction or shojo manga) in female-dominated areas of fandom (and particularly slash fandom) there is a hostility that honestly startles me. What has happened to these women between their Anne of Green Gables days and now?
Sara K. saysSeptember 4, 2009 at 10:27 pm
I don’t know why they’re hostile, in fact, I haven’t really encountered this hostility. When you mentioned ‘the evils of Ginny Weasley’ I didn’t know what you were talking about, because the Harry Potter fandom I know is generally fond of Ginny. When I was reading the comments on Sarah R. B.’s post I was mystified by the fact that almost everyone agreed with her, because so much of what she discussed in her post was foreign to me. I’ve read plenty of stories which fail the Bechdel test because there aren’t two female characters to rub together, but I can’t think of much which fails the other prongs. What are some stories where the heroine “seems to actively dislike her friends (tons of mental bagging on them) or is at least totally prepared to dismiss her friends the instant Mr Right comes along and then friends can either talk solely about Mr Right with her or hop it”?